The Way We Were
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 12, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Dances held sway at old Wakefield Community Club
by Philip Cohen and Louise Schwartz
With the grand opening of the new Wakefield-La Peche Community Centre just around the corner, let's cast back 85 years ago. Wakefield villagers were as community-oriented as they are now. Up until then, socializing usually took place at the Temperance Hotel or Wakefield Inn.
Around 1926, the first community centre, called the Wakefield Community Club, was built on pasture land behind MacLaren's Manor House (now the Le Manoir seniors residence). The clubhouse was large and rectangular, about 50 by 30 feet, with a veranda along the front.
The main room was a dance hall, with a bandstand located at one end and snack bar along the other. Benches lined the walls around the room. The clubhouse quickly became a focal point for village events from May until October.
A once-popular venue for a picnic - the Wakefield Community Clubhouse. (1936) Photo courtesy GVHS.
Although the building had electricity and lighting, it was not suitable for year-round use. In the winter, most indoor activities took place at the Protestant-based Orange Hall. This red-brick structure, now a private residence, had been built in the late 1800s at the south end of Wakefield. Later on, another popular winter venue was situated upstairs at the now long-gone ice "shack," behind the former site of Hamilton's Garage.
The clubhouse was a popular gathering spot in the 1930s for picnics. A refreshment booth nearby could accommodate the large crowds, and it would be festooned with Canadian flags for the celebration. Longtime Wakefield resident Irwin Stewart recalls dances organized at the clubhouse every Saturday night, from nine to midnight, during the Second World War. Admission was 25 cents, and you could buy a cola drink or chocolate bar (such as an Oh Henry!) for five cents. There was a public toilet inside, for ladies only. Men were expected to find a discrete spot outside.
The men sat on benches on one side of the room, with women on the other. Some 300 to 600 dance enthusiasts might show up on a good evening, and a bouncer (for many years Ken Young) controlled any rowdiness. On Halloween, the final soiree of the season, dancers would compete for prizes for the best costume. On other occasions, a few older boys would borrow a wind-up gramophone and records and supervise dances for teenagers.
Servers outnumber their single customer at the refreshment booth beside the Wakefield clubhouse, opened up on picnic day. (1930) Photo courtesy GVHS.
Smoking was a big part of life, but only for the men. "Ladies" generally refrained from smoking, at least in public. Exports were the cigarettes of choice, rolled into papers from loose tobacco in a tin, and cost 35 cents. Since it was Prohibition and Wakefield was "dry," no alcohoI could be sold at the clubhouse. The ban continued even after Prohibition ended in 1947, perhaps due to vestiges of Puritanism. Nonetheless, Wakefielder Mervin Cross remembers bootleggers selling beer, usually Black Label and Carling O'Keefe, from the trunks of their cars for 25 cents a bottle. Even with this, Irwin Stewart recalls little drunkenness and almost no fights.
Square dances were well attended. A standard routine comprised three square dances followed by a round (slow) dance. When the start of a dance was announced, the men would rush across the room, seeking a willing partner.
Different bands played the venue, accompanied by guitars, fiddles, or piano.
It is reported that 16-year-old Paul Anka crooned to a lucky crowd there, just before he hit the big time.
The pairing for the last dance of the evening, called the "home waltz," determined which woman a man would be entitled to escort home.
The clubhouse burned down in 1963. A year later, an elementary school was built on the site, and the social scene shifted to other venues such as the Legion Hall or Vorlage Ski Hill.
With the new Wakefield La Peche Community Centre only months away from completion, there are high hopes it will become as central to the community as the old clubhouse on School Hill once was.
Postscript: Thanks to Norma Geggie for information obtained from her "Wakefield Revisited" book.